Follow the Leader was a game we learned in kindergarten. The rules were simple. One person was the leader. Everyone else lined up behind them. The leader walked. The others followed. If the leader raised his hand, so did the followers. If the leader started skipping, the others followed.
When I graduated from seminary a small and struggling rural church contacted me about the possibility of becoming their pastor. The church was located not far from my home town. The search committee member who contacted me was an acquaintance. It’s been a few years, but as I recall the conversation went something like this: “We are a very small church with less than 30 people attending, but we need a pastor. We are a country church. All of the surrounding towns are from 8 to 10 miles from us. Would you be willing to send me your resume?”
I thanked him for thinking about me, but explained that I was already scheduled to preach “in view of a call” at a church the following Sunday. My practice has always been to only deal with one church at the time. So we agreed that if things didn’t work out that I would let him know.
God led that small and struggling church to call a bi-vocational pastor who is still shepherding that flock three decades later. The church has grown significantly. Every Sunday they have members who drive the 8 to 10 miles from each of the surrounding towns to gather for Bible study and worship. The church is heavily involved in missions. It is no longer a small and struggling rural church. It is now a vibrant regional church that is making a Kingdom difference.
Another friend and former member of that church recently told me something that I believe is the key to their success. During the same pastoral search when I was contacted, the deacons got together and determined to follow the leader. They determined to follow the Lord. And they determined to follow the pastor whom the Lord sent to shepherd them. In order to follow the leader churches must determine to do at least three things:
Submit to the Lord
One of the questions I ask churches in consultations is this. “Who runs this church?” Churches that determine to follow the leader begin by following Jesus. They let Jesus run the church. They don’t just give lip service to following. These churches actually follow. They submit to the Lord. They submit to Jesus. A church that will not submit to Jesus as the head of the church will not submit to the pastor whom Jesus sends to lead his church. Follow the leader. James 4:7 says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God.” He is the leader of his church.
Submit to One Another
I vividly remember the conversation. It was an impromptu staff meeting in the break room. The topic. Competing agendas among church members. The youth parents wanted this. The senior adults wanted that. You get the picture. If you don’t, then think about what it would be like to herd cats. Or play the game Whack-a-Mole.
Church members were doing the opposite of what Paul encouraged in Philippians 2:2-4, “Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also the interests of others.”
To the church at Ephesus Paul wrote, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). Do you see the connection? Submitting to each other and submitting to Christ are inseparably linked.You can not truly submit to another Christian if you have not already submitted to Christ.
Submit to Leaders
The writer of Hebrews addressed this head on: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17).
Years ago I preached at a neighborhood church on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. As I got out of my car in front of the church, a man met me and introduced himself, “Hi, my name is Bob, and I run this church.” I have met Bob on many different occasions in many different churches. He is not always so brazen with his declaration. But his unwillingness to submit to the Lord, to other church members, and to leaders is unmistakable. He thinks he knows what is best. And he will stop at nothing to advance his agenda.
If you are a member of a church that is stuck, struggling or spiraling towards death ask yourself this question: “Who runs this church?” Is your church following the leader? Have you decided to submit to the Lord, to one another and to the pastor whom God has sent to lead your church? If not, then maybe it’s time to head back to kindergarten and re-learn how to follow the leader. It certainly helped one small and struggling rural church to experience revival and revitalization. And it might just help your church, too!